13 March 2010

Paleozoic Part 2: Permian Extinction


About 250 million years ago a magnificently epic event took place ... the Permian Extinction. With the potential exception of the earlier-discussed Great Oxygenation Event, this "Great Dying" is Earth's most severe mass event, with 96% of marine life and 70% of terrestrial life going extinct (including the only known mass extinction of insect species, such as the amazing 2-foot wingspan dragonflies known as Protodonata). There doesn't appear to be any one specific cause, most likely occurring as a result of simultaneous, gradual climate changes along with possible asteroid impacts, increased volcano activity, etc. However, in the wonderfully eternal mystery that is life, this seemingly tragic event is actually cause of immense celebration ... the 'Sunday Morning' following the storm opened the door for 160 million of Earth's most glorious years ...

Another Friday night, another cop-out iPhone shot. This was the computer terminal at the bowling alley I went to tonight. We made enough jokes about it that it might as well have been from the Paleozoic. I thought technology this old had gone extinct...

Bowling also made me think about the role of the microbe throughout all of Earth's history. I was perfectly comfortable with wearing borrowed shoes, worn by hundreds before me, with only a quick disinfectant spray as the barrier between me and the last guy. And why not? Hasn't killed me yet. But when you stop and think that there are more bacterial cells in and on you than human cells you can't help but be a little humbled. Who really rules the Earth? So Permian Extinction or not, the microbe is one hell of a champion as far as time goes, and we should be thankful for the relationships we have formed with our microbiota and for our astounding immune systems which help take care of the less diplomatic microbes.

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